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At a recent workshop I was asked how I use social media to promote and market my work as a photographer. I had to think carefully about my response because I use social media primarily as a medium to help and inspire others, as well as to promote my workshops. Yet that is intrinsically tied to me as an individual.

Still, my daily use has changed dramatically over the last year, and especially the last few months.

It’s also especially relevant since so much photography is shared and consumed online these days. And if you want to market a business, I’d argue it’s worth having a good social media strategy.

This article has been in my “drafts” folder for some time, but a few recent articles made me revisit it and finally decide to share it with you. It’s also a coincidence that social media has been on the front page news, though I don’t think it’s going away any time soon.

I’m going to make some controversial points here, and perhaps you will disagree. That’s totally fine, because my goal is not to convince you of anything. I simply want to share a perspective of what works for me and my goals. You may find your goals are similar.

The Age of Distraction

I’ve grown to see social media as a potential black hole of distraction for me, one that I want to avoid. You don’t have to go very far to see people everywhere staring at their mobile screens like zombies, whether in a restaurant with friends (or their spouses,) at the playground with their children, or while hiking in a national park. I once photographed sunset on the shores of Jordan Pond in Acadia while a young couple stared at their Facebook feeds well into twilight.

For many it’s the first thing they engage with in the morning or the last at night before they go to sleep. And it remains an endless source of shallow entertainment throughout the day.

Numerous studies have shown that there is a significant cost to multi-tasking and subconscious distractions in general. The more you interrupt your concentration for these seemingly pleasurable distractions, the more you actually diminish your overall creative potential.

And all of us know how precarious creative moments can be, sometimes balanced on a knife’s edge between a true insight and a dead end. The more we participate in the attention economy, and in essence become the products of the companies that entice us with “click-bait,” the more we sacrifice our precious ability for deep work as Cal Newport so well examines in this great book.

I want to do deep work in the areas that matter to me, namely my creative pursuits. But most importantly, being the best father and husband I can be. And in all instances, I have found social media to be a subversive obstacle to each of these.

A Healthy Balance

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it’s a loss-loss scenario. In fact, used judiciously, social media enables me to do what I enjoy most: helping others in their creative pursuits. Judicious use is the key, but so difficult since the services are specifically designed for anything but judicious use.

I cannot deny the many benefits of reaching many more people than ever before in human history. That for me is a privilege I do not want to trivialize or undervalue. I will continue to focus on Youtube as my preferred medium to share info and inspiration.

In fact, I’ve become a Youtube Red subscriber for this very reason. I’d rather use it without the ads and make it tool that gives me a bit more control over what I see and when. As for the others (Facebook, Twitter, etc,) I have an assistant that handles the actual posting based on what I provide, freeing me to focus on what provides the greatest value for me – making images, writing, and working with students.

The more focused I can be every day of my life, the more I can create and produce effectively. I want to spend as much of my time engaged with the things that matter to me, not what others think should matter to me.

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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Robert, I share your opinion on this. I grew up in the technology world starting in the early 1970s. As tech facilitated the development of social media, the sheer size and scale has taken us to a point of diminishing returns in that there is a lot of content out there but the value has fallen. Notwithstanding this, people have become addicted to access no matter whether the media has value or not. So as you say everyone around us has bowed heads praying to the electronic gods.

  2. I am in firm agreement with you on this current wave of distraction we call social media. I hope that it diminishes for the sake of the next generation or that users find better takeaway substance at it’s core.

    I want to thank you for your articles and the time you give back to the community. I find many of your writings to be positive and encouraging for the creative mind. It’s always refreshing to read you. Thank you! -Ben

  3. The following is related, I think, to your social media article in the sense that it deals with how to spend your time.
    For the last few years, I have elected not to watch television. It is definitely true that there are things on television that are fun to watch, enlightening, and rewarding in a meaningful sense. However, when in a public place, or staying at a hotel, or experiencing a TV in the “background”, the predominant feelings I get are: -there is way too much noise
    -the commercials seem louder than the shows they interrupt; and they are numerous
    -the shows are characterized by very rapid scene changes, to the point of annoyance; the same can be said of the formula movies (these are movies that are cutsey, violent, and/or sexual in amounts that research has shown to be profitable). Formula movies, as the moniker suggests, are not creative.
    -“news” is characterized by 15 second exposure to sensationalism, crying, violence and meaningless events at the expense of covering events of consequence in depth. Perspective, current or historical, for the events is rarely provided. This basically is pandering to our collective lack of desire to engage in reflective thought.
    -“news” is often propaganda. It always has been, but to a much less obvious degree. It is very difficult to write and present a story, even with the best of intentions towards neutrality, without using words or tone of voice that indicate a certain bias.
    – many shows seem insulting in terms of style and content
    -many shows are obnoxious
    So, in my case, other sources for news and entertainment are substituted.
    I know this sounds like a “holier than thou” diatribe, but I urge all to try and do without television for two weeks, then go back to your old habits and see what comes to your mind. And, yes, I do still waste a lot of time!

    1. Thanks Brian, luckily my family and I gave up broadcast TV 10 years ago, and on every measure our lives have benefited from that decision.

    2. I came to the same realization Brian. i cut the TV cord a few weeks back and haven’t looked back since. Most of the content I watch now is online and mostly related to photography or just the daily news and happenings in the world. Neither of which requires cable or local TV. Now I can choose what I consume, when, and where. I can also choose the news outlet I watch to get my daily update. With cable the control of the content vanishes. Also they don’t offer much of what I am truly interested in either.

  4. Thanks for the essay and verbalizing a major issue for all of who value our privacy but yet want to stay in touch.

    As always the book references are greatly appreciated. Here’s one for you. Victor Shamas – a psychology professor at Arizona University has published a book which essentially takes issue with each of the 14 points of creativity. His premise is that empirical, modeled definitions of creativity miss the true values. You can preview it on Amazon: Deep Creativity – Victor Shamas, Ph.D. Always more interesting when someone sees it differently.
    And, it’s full of great quotes. (: ) Best to you and yours!

    1. Awesome, will definitely check it out. Like consciousness, we barely understand the inner workings of the mind, and there’s much left to learn about creativity, empirically and otherwise.

  5. Thank you for this timely article! It’s exactly the reason I’m rapidly weaning myself off of Facebook & will be completely off of it in another 1-2 weeks. Blessings & thanks from an Alberta subscriber.

  6. Thanks, Robert. I find myself wasting too much precious time and couldn’t agree with you more. I have to make a conscientious effort to stay off the screens, especially when used to avoid and procrastinate. I could be daydreaming instead! And planning my next photo project. Or a million other creative endeavors.

  7. Hello Robert,
    Totally agree with you on this zombie society who makes me crazy every day. It looks like the only thing interesting now is to watch you phone???? and forget the rest. Very sad to see a society so manipulated who is not able to go anywhere or do anything without looking at their stupid phone.
    The fact that Internet is here and available to anybody help us to see and discover many things we would not know otherwise but, I don’t think Facebook or twitter help anybody in reality.They are also a recipe for disaster since you can destroy somebody’s life or work because you do not fit in this specific mold decided by some citizens.
    Many sites are available when you are following a subject, yours is an exemple. YouTube is also a good way to get the information you need even you can also get trapped watching to many videos and spending to much time. Thanks for the book reference.

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